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To say that Indigenous peoples have been cast out is an understatement — not just in the U.S., but around the world. According to the UN:

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Indigenous peoples continue to be over-represented among the poor, the illiterate, and the unemployed. Indigenous peoples number about 370 million. While they constitute approximately 5 per cent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples make up 15 per cent of the world’s poor. They also make up about one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people.

There are plenty more grave statistics to cover, but perhaps one of the most positive things to take into consideration is the acknowledgement they are finally receiving. Mainstream media’s silence may stifle indigenous people’s actions, but alternative outlets will not.

In recent news, Indigenous leaders in Canada are fighting back after being forced out of the country’s national parks system in 1885 for conservation and tourism.

At the Canadian Parks Conference last week in Banff, Alberta, Indigenous leaders called for necessary reconciliation from the parks they were excluded from — the same ones visited by more than 14 million people in 2015/16.

The conference saw Indigenous delegates, public servants, and conservationists cross paths with the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, in honour of which Parks Canada has waived the entry fee to its parks through 2017, allowing free admittance to anyone.

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Back in 2008, Canada issued a formal apology for the residential school system that plagued Indigenous communities for over a century, but Canada’s steps toward reconciliation are far from commendable.

They’ve been described as “ghosts of history,” because their integral role in Canada’s history, and its present, has largely been ignored. They are not ghosts, however. And believing they don’t really exist has led to some pretty grim circumstances, like the 2014 United Nations report showed that, of the bottom 100 communities in Canada on the Community Well-Being Index, 96 were indigenous communities.

And just this month, Senator lyn Beyak’s comments about residential schools being “well-intentioned” places of “good deeds” further proved how belittled they continue to be.

According to Steven Nitah, a conference organizer and former chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories, the assimilationist policy responsible for residential schools continues on. “The policy permeates all departments throughout the government apparatus. Just because the government made a decision and apologized, doesn’t mean it’s gone away.”

But the parks will serve as a form if reconciliation. “Reconciliation is only possible when we’re on equal footing,” said Chloe Dragon Smith. A Chipewyan-European-Métis session leader from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Smith is working with the Canadian Parks Council to make a change. “The land is a great equalizer.”
The land serves as the symbol for this necessary reconciliation. “We believe true reconciliation happens on the land,” explained Valérie Courtois, director of the nonprofit Indigenous Leadership Initiative, which works to protect and maintain ancestral lands through guardian programs.
“Guardians programs are moccasins and mukluks on the land,” said Courtois. “It is the very expression of our cultural responsibility to that land as a people.” There are about 30 Indigenous-led guardian programs to date, but many more are expected to unfold if federal funding pulls through.
The hope is that the conference will help to create a set of recommendations for environment ministers and governments throughout Canada, beginning with progress in more established parks.
The stand has been taken by Indigenous leaders, with solutions being presented.
“They’ve pried open the door,” said Dragon Smith, “and the new generation is starting to walk through. I feel very grateful.”

 


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